‘Lighthearted’ likenesses

Artist Ed Schulman adds brighter hues and his own experience to his palette.


There’s a lot of the past reflected in the work of artist Ed Schulman. Having grown up in Manhattan in the 1950s and ’60s enjoying a childhood spent in museums, at the theater and opera, and on trips exploring the city, Schulman’s work is influenced by his own colorful history.

Having gotten a later start as an artist than most, Schulman has made up for lost time. He paints and draws prolifically, and has shown his work at A Gallery and as a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Artists Association, at the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown.

This winter the artist will be the focus of two solo shows. A small selection of his paintings and drawings are on display at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven through the end of January. During the month of February, he will be the featured artist in a more expansive exhibit at the West Tisbury library.

For the Mocha Mott’s show, which he has entitled “Lighthearted,” Schulman is unveiling recent paintings that display something new in his evolution as an artist. Known primarily for his use of muted colors, the artist has decided to play around a bit more with brighter hues, as an act of defiance against the current state of the world. “My emphasis is on color, which is different for me,” he says. “I purposely added color and dance scenes to liven up what has been a very grim time.”

Among the new work are a number of scenes depicting groups of women, one of Schulman’s favorite subjects. In a particularly vibrant one, a lineup of vaguely rendered figures wearing abstracted orange dresses is set against a teal background — their stark white legs adding an interesting linear element to the painting. The artist explains that that particular image has its roots in scenes he witnessed as a young boy attending performances at Radio City Music Hall. Although his work is often narrative in nature, Schulman relies on suggestion and a mix of inspirations. When asked, he will generally mention an influence, but notes that all of his work is open to interpretation.

Schulman recalls that during his early years, his father had friends in show business, which led to the youngster attending numerous popular children’s TV shows as an audience member or visitor. “One of my father’s wartime buddies turned out to be Clarabell on the ‘Howdy Doody Show,’” he says. “That association brought me backstage a lot.”
His interest in theater and early television, especially the visual aspects of the entertainment business, left a lasting impression on the artist, and has informed much of his work. However, he continues to find inspiration in scenes from his current home of Martha’s Vineyard. Another of Schulman’s colorful paintings, titled “Reunion,” shows a grouping of African American women dressed variously in reds and yellows with touches of soft blue. As in all of the artist’s work, he has managed to get a surprising amount of movement, form, and emotion from very few brushstrokes.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Schulman’s black-and-white sketches. One of the Mocha Mott’s pieces depicts two women, seen from behind, walking arm in arm. Another shows a small group of women in voluminous dresses whose costumes seem to merge into a marvelous swirl of motion.

Not only do Schulman’s subjects harken back to earlier times, his style too is reminiscent of painters from the ’50s and early ’60s, as well as advertising and graphic art from that era. Many of his drawings emulate the look of mid-century fashion sketches, while some of the paintings vaguely recall travel posters and other commercial art from a time when graphic art was increasingly showing very modern and experimental tendencies.
All of the work in the Mocha Motts’ show — paintings, drawings, and prints — is very attractively priced.

“My theory is, I try to keep my work affordable so that I can transfer it to more people,” says Schulman, who notes that he has sold more than 250 of his drawings. “I’m always interested in getting them from me to someone else.”